Potsdam isn’t just associated with the pomp and elegance of the Hohenzollern rulers. It also has a very different past dating from the Cold War era when it was firmly entrenched behind the Iron Curtain as part of the DDR. So close to West Berlin and yet light years away in so many respects.
We found out more about this side of Potsdam on our first visit back in 2013. We walked probably three times our daily steps quota with Original Berlin Walks on their Discover Potsdam Tour! Sanssouci and the city centre was just a small part of the day (see here, here and here for previous posts).
Our starting point was the eastern side of the city (Sanssouci is on the west) and our first destination was a pretty spot on the River Havel. Basking in the sunshine it was hard to imagine its more sinister past. Glienicker Bruecke or Glienicke Bridge is best known as the “Bridge Of Spies”, the transfer point for cross-iron curtain spy swaps in the Cold War era. As luck would have it we’d arrived on the day of a spring fun run!
The Glienicke Bridge was the only checkpoint under full Soviet Control in the divided Berlin era – others in the zone were also manned by East German border guards and this is probably why the Allies and Soviets used the bridge as their spy swap point.
The first prisoner exchange took place on 10 February 1962. The Americans released Soviet spy Colonel Rudolf Abel in exchange for American spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers captured by the USSR following the U-2 Crisis of 1960. The 2015 film, Bridge Of Spies, is based on their story (haven’t seen it myself though).
The final exchange, which I can remember as it got quite a bit of press coverage at the time, was on 11 February 1986. Anatoly Shcharansky (now Natan Sharanksy), the human rights campaigner and political prisoner, plus three Western agents were exchanged for Karl Koecher and four other Eastern agents.
For a long time secluded and closed off, the bridge and surrounding parks and palaces can once again be enjoyed by tourists and visitors for recreational purposes (as well as the locals of course).
The People’s Park (Glienicker Volkspark) is a beautiful place in which to have a wander especially in the spring time. Elegant villas and gardens have been restored and the feeling is a world away from the grey bleakness of the post war era.
You can find out more about other attractions such as the 19th century Babelsberg Castle (overlooking the River Havel on the other side of Glienicke Bridge), travel information and river cruises, which operate during the warmer months, here at the Potsdam Tourist Site.
Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved